Ryan Izzo appeared to be the forgotten man coming into training camp this summer, his third with the Patriots after he was plucked in the seventh round of the 2018 draft.
New England grabbed a pair of tight ends with back-to-back third-round picks in April and signed a coveted undrafted rookie, and the common perception was that there was a youth movement afoot at the position.
Izzo spent his rookie season on injured reserve after being hurt late in camp and followed that by playing in just six games in 2019 after a concussion curtailed his season.
Izzo, however, wasn’t buying into the notion that he would be the invisible man, instead buying deeper into the Patriots program and getting himself ready to be a big contributor — which is exactly what he was in New England’s 21-11 win over Miami on Sunday.
He not only produced the Patriots' largest play from scrimmage on a 25-yard reception, he also contributed as blocker for a rushing attack that piled up 217 yards.
"He’s dealt with a couple of setbacks here in his first two years,'' Bill Belichick said Monday morning. "I feel like even though our opportunity to work with him this year was limited in the offseason, he took from the end of last year until the beginning of this year and improved his strength and put on some solid weight, worked on his blocking fundamentals, continued to improve those [working with tight ends] coach [Nick] Caley — and he’s certainly gotten better over the course of this year’s training camp and relative to the two prior years.''
For Belichick, Izzo’s consistency has played a big part in his steps forward.
“He’s been out there every day,” said the coach, “so when you’re out there every day working hard, you have to improve, and he certainly has.”
On Izzo’s catch, he lined up next to right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor and ran across the middle of the field where the Dolphins were in single high coverage. Linebacker Jerome Baker recognized the route and undercut it. Izzo, however, adjusted, stopping abruptly to shake Baker, who couldn’t halt his momentum. This gave Cam Newton a quick window to hit Izzo for the 25-yard gain.
The added muscle Izzo put on was on display particularly when the Patriots went smashmouth as the 6-foot-5-inch, 255-pounder (he looks larger) threw his body around to help create running lanes and also seal off the edge.
Perhaps Izzo’s best block came on Newton’s first touchdown of the game, a 4-yard designed run where the quarterback could have run all the way up Route 1 to the Automile untouched.
Flanked to Eluemunor’s right, Izzo ducked underneath a pulling Eluemunor and sealed off the defensive end with a crack block. This left Eluemunor alone in space against a smaller defensive back, allowing Newton to waltz into the end zone.
Izzo, who played 98 percent of the offensive snaps, not only left an impression on some of the Dolphins, he left one on his teammates.
“I think Izzo did a great job blocking yesterday, as did Devin Asiasi, so I feel like our whole tight end corps, if you want to call them honorary offensive linemen, that can catch the ball and run through the defenses,” said left tackle Isaiah Wynn.
Belichick was impressed with Izzo’s contributions Sunday but equally admired the way the third-year player continued to grind when the going was tough early on in his career.
“He made a nice catch-and-run for us on a play-action pass and gave us a pretty solid effort there at tight end,” said the coach. "We needed that, so he did a nice job.
“He’s shown a lot of mental toughness and competitiveness to continue to work, even though things weren’t always going the way he wanted them to or the way we wanted them to. He stuck with it with a good, positive attitude and day-after-day commitment, and that paid off.”